Speaking at the funeral of Malcolm X, on February 27, 1965, Ossie Davis, an American actor and civil rights activist, said: “Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man — but a seed — which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us.”
Someplace between sadness, disbelief and shock is where many of us find ourselves still grieving the loss of actor Chadwick Boseman. The emotional and psychological toll of 2020, from COVID-19, inept political leadership and the seemingly endless list of victims of police violence across the United States will take years of therapy to grapple with much less overcome. At the time of this writing, Breonna Taylor’s killers remain at large.
How Black Panther Sees the World
The death of Chadwick Boseman at age 43 only compounds the feeling of loss and emptiness. Boseman was much more than a famous actor who died too soon. He was a generational talent. Critics were already praising him as the next Denzel Washington. This is fitting, not only because of the on-screen charisma and leading-man persona they share, but also because Denzel Washington paid for acting opportunities for young Boseman.
Although Boseman had a relatively short career, black Twitter named him the “blackest man in Hollywood” for his portrayal of the lives of significant black men. Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball since 1889, in “42” (2013), James Brown, the “hardest working man in showbiz,” in “Get on Up” (2014), and Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice in “Marshall” (2017). His work in other films like “Message from the King” (2016) and the forthcoming “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” reveals a true artist that could bring depth, nuance and sophistication to any character he portrayed.
However, perhaps no other film captures his presence and embodiment of royalty than the record-setting Marvel’s “Black Panther” (2018). The film revolutionized expectations of black representation for audiences worldwide. Although studio executives were not necessarily in full agreement, Chadwick Boseman insisted that his character maintain an African accent based on legitimate African languages. The attention to detail and the story brought Afrofuturism and Pan-African philosophy to the forefront — both firsts for a mainstream Hollywood film.
The success of “Black Panther” affirmed many black comic book fans’ belief in what could happen if this story were ever a film and in the right creative hands. It also meant that traveling to multi-media, popular culture and comic conventions like Dragon Con would feel more welcoming with the validation of a successful black superhero film — not a sidekick or buddy. Dragon Con hosts about 85,000 people during Labor Day weekend and would have been happening live shortly after Boseman’s passing, if not for the closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He meant so much to so many, with some fans seeing “Black Panther” multiple times and still buying copies on the Blu-ray and DVD. His appeal was both in his portrayals on-screen and in his behavior off-camera. His filmography is part of a more extensive collection of black films that disprove the myth that black movies with black-focused narratives do not travel well or appeal to a global audience.
Aware of the cultural impact films have on popular culture and his power and platform as an actor, Boseman embraced the opportunity to be a catalyst for hope. He returned to his HBCU (historically black college and university) roots, Howard University, to challenge students to remain committed to their standards. He encouraged others to find and live their purpose. He took the time to speak with children, particularly those struggling with illnesses, as seen in an interview where Boseman talked about two black children that died of cancer before being able to see his movie. Such interviews, as well as tributes from actors, friends and family, offer evidence that his sense of giving and deep spiritual commitment to humanity was not limited to the characters he played.
Learning that he was doing much of this while he battled colon cancer privately was, as Ernest Hemingway put it, grace under pressure — courage. Boseman could have quickly taken on roles that did not challenge assumptions or stereotypes about black life and his mortality. Still, he dared to live fearlessly and push the boundaries of what was possible in his art. In doing this, he has elevated what is possible and leaves a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
Chadwick Boseman has joined the ancestors now, much like his character T’Challa. This time he will not return. So, until we come forth again to meet, we wish him to rest in eternal peace and power. Wakanda Forever.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.